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Kent Street Coalition

It almost felt like normal times at the State House this morning. With the Senate about to convene, there were a dozen members of the Kent Street Coalition, with signs and a “Sununu Veto Graveyard” depicting the 79 bills vetoed by Governor Chris Sununu in the past two years. The occasion was known as Veto Override Day, when legislators have a chance to undo vetoes with votes by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.

The day’s agendas included consideration of 22 vetoed bills, including ones to raise the state’s minimum wage, create a family and medical leave insurance program, strengthen the net metering policies for solar and wind energy development, expand tenant rights, protect reproductive rights, add protections for workers, implement voting reforms, and more. The governor set a record last year with 57 vetoes, only two of which were overridden.

House Bill 731, which would re-establish the state’s minimum wage and raise it in two steps to $12 an hour by 2023 drew support from members of the NH Alliance for a Moral Economy, who mustered outside the House of Representatives session at the Whittemore Arena in Durham. Rev. Gail Kinney called the issue of wages a matter of “morality and immorality.”

Standing outside the arena, where UNH athletes Rev. Gail Kinneyplay hockey but today a meeting place where the nearly 400 House members could safely spread out and debate Sununu’s vetoes, Kinney called on the governor and legislators to “face the facts” of a labor market in which workers can be paid as little as $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum.

“No full time worker in the state of NH who makes $7.25 an hour or $8.25 an hour or even 9 dollars an hour can afford a roof over his or her head, or food on the table, and they can’t care for or clothe a child on that kind of wage,” Kinney said, adding that in some areas of the state it would take twice that wage or even three times that wage for workers to get by.

“We know that when workers are condemned to a life of poverty and constant economic anxiety the entire community fabric suffers,” she added. “Smart employers know too, that if they pay enough they can attract good workers and those workers will stay with them. A decent wage is a good business investment.”

Kinney’s perspective was later echoed by Dan Feltes, the Senate Majority Leader who is also the Democratic candidate for governor. Speaking at a Sen. Dan Feltesnews conference by the State House steps, Senator Feltes noted that workers in restaurants and grocery stores are the ones suffering from low wages and blasted the governor for twice vetoing bills that would raise pay at the bottom end of the labor market. “At the same time giving himself a $31,000 pay raise, he vetoes a minimum wage increase for our frontline workers.”

115,000 workers would benefit from a higher minimum wage, according to Feltes.

Sununu has said raising the minimum wage would be “dumb” and “disastrous,” Feltes said, “just like when he called paid family leave ‘a vacation.’”

“He can’t help but insult hard working Granite Staters,” charged Feltes, one of the legislature’s prime sponsors of the family leave proposal.

Speaking to the Moral Economy group, M.K. Guilfoyle, a Dover resident, gave personal testimony about family leave. She explained that at age 22 she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, requiring her to get intensive therapy. Her parents exhausted their own sick leave and vacation time to care for her, she explained. Family Medical Leave Insurance, like the program vetoed last year and this year by Governor Sununu, would have eased the burden on her family and made it easier for her to re-enter the workforce when she regained her health.

“What happened to the moral compass of the governor?” Rev. Kinney asked.

“Sununu presents himself as a moderate, but if you just take one look at the range of bills he has vetoed, many of which had bipartisan support, it is not a moderate record,” commented Louise Spencer, co-founder of the Kent Street Coalition.

“The governor didn’t come across the aisle” to talk with legislators, who work hard to craft bills. Instead of working with them to make the bills better, she said, Sununu just used his veto power to block anything he didn’t like.

Vetoes can be appropriate from Spencer’s perspective, but legislators deserve some deference as the body closest to the people who elected them. “A few vetoes are understandable, but when you are looking at 79 vetoes that is not giving deference to the duly elected legislature of the people.”

When the House and Senate sessions ended, all of the governor’s vetoes had been sustained. Expect the minimum wage, family leave, and energy policy to be debated from now until election day. Regardless of how the election turns out, the issues will be back in 2021, and so will members of the Kent Street Coalition and the NH Alliance for a Moral Economy.

Sununu Veto Graveyard

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The movement of fast-food workers demanding wages of at least $15 an hour made a spirited visit to Concord, New Hampshire this afternoon.

About 35 workers and allies chanted and marched down Loudon Road from HazenP5050187 Drive to East Side Drive and back again on the other side.  The route took us past Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Wendy’s, and other establishments that currently depend on low-wage workers. 

The Granite State actually abolished its minimum wage in 2011, which means that the base pay for most workers is $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum.  The base pay for tipped workers is even less.  Attempts every year since then to restore the minimum wage and raise it have been unsuccessful, largely due to effective lobbying by trade associations of businesses that pay low wages.

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“You can’t survive on $7.25.  Live free or die!” was one of the chants.

Others included “Hey McDonalds, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”  P5050127(The names of other businesses can be substituted.) 

The marchers went inside at KFC, where they chanted for several minutes before leaving voluntarily.  At McDonalds we were locked out.  Several members of the Concord Police Department met up with us at Burger King, where they explained the rules regarding trespass and disorderly conduct to labor organizers who no doubt were already familiar with the law.   

Today’s demonstration was organized by SEIU Local 1984, the Granite State

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Organizing Project, and the United Valley Interfaith Project. 

GSOP and UVIP have been holding monthly “Fight for $15” protests in Concord, Manchester, Nashua,P5050098 and West Lebanon, but typically with smaller groups and a less confrontational approach.  The monthly actions generally take place on the 15th of the month.   

For more information, contact

GSOP at 603-668-8250 or http://granitestateorganizing.org/

UVIP at 603-443-3682 or

http://www.unitedvalleyinterfaithproject.org

More photos:

 

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You’ve probably seen some stories about protests for higher wages and better working conditions at giant retail chains like Walmart and fast food restaurants like McDonald’s.   Perhaps you’ve even participated.  With another “day of action” for fast food workers coming soon, New Hampshire Slim showed up with a new song. 

To be honest, it would be more accurate to say Slim brought “new lyrics to an old song,” since he really has little musical talent.  But he’s inspired by Joe Hill, the legendary Wobbly, who figured that if he put new words to familiar tunes they’d be easier for workers to remember and sing.   

This one’s to the tune of “Deck the Halls”  and corresponds to legislation that will be considered in Concord next year.  You can fill in the fa-la-las.

 

Deck the halls with higher wages,

Raise the minimum in stages,

Index pay hikes to inflation,

Workers need fair compensation.

Higher pay for low-wage labor

Is the way to aid our neighbors.

Mickey D will you be willin’?

Help your workers feed their children.

Wages less than nine an hour

Gives too little buying power

Put it on your year-end wish list

Win a wage hike by next Christmas

NH Slim, December 2013

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Six hardy activists held signs outside the Concord NH Walmart store this morning in solidarity with workers calling for higher pay and more respectful working conditions.  The “Black Friday” protest was one of many across the country intended to put pressure on the nation’s largest employer and the concord 11-29-13 004 world’s largest retailer, which has built a business model on the lousy labor standards faced by its workers and those who produce the products it sells.

According to Making Change at Walmart, most of the company’s workers earn less than $25,000 a year.  Wages are so low that 42% of the company’s Massachusetts workers are eligible for subsidized health insurance, according to figures generated by the state’s Center for Health Information and Analysis.

The Black Friday protests were coordinated by Making Change at Walmart,  a campaign challenging Walmart to help rebuild our economy and strengthen working families. Anchored by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), it unites  Walmart employees, union members, small business owners, religious leaders, community organizations, women’s advocacy groups, multi-ethnic coalitions, elected officials and ordinary citizens who believe that changing Walmart is a vital priority for the economic health of our communities.  Making Change works closely with OUR Walmart, an organization of employees, many of whom have taken risky actions to  insist on a more respectful work environment.  

It’s a busy season for “Days of Action.”  One focused on preserving Social Security will be held next Tuesday.  Another, focused on solidarity with fast food workers, will be held Thursday, December 5.   In addition to supporting the efforts of workers at low-wage retail chains and fast food restaurants, the actions can also boost support for legislation to raise the minimum wage at the national and state levels.

In New Hampshire, where the legislature abolished the state’s minimum wage in 2011, a bill to raise the wage for the state’s lowest workers in two steps to $9 an hour will be introduced in January.

Walmart can afford to raise wages.  Citing sources such as the annual Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, the web site “The Walmart 1%” says the six wealthiest Waltons, the heirs to Walmart founder Sam Walton, have a net worth of $144.7 billion and that the family has as much wealth as 42% of the American population added together. 

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COMMUNITY RALLY FOR FAIR PAY

ELLSWORTH, MAINE — On the outskirts of Ellsworth, Maine, just after we turned off Route 1 in pursuit of a more scenic route home, we heard a notice on WERU, an Orland-based community radio station, announcing that a rally in support of fast food workers had just begun.  Having been on vacation, we had been unaware that August 29 had been designated a day for fast food workers and their allies to strike and rally for a hike in wages to $15 an hour until Jan mentioned it to us the previous day. 

Assuming we would find the rally on the strip we had sought to avoid, we did a u-turn, re-traced our path, took a right, and soon found a small group of sign-holding protestors in front of McDonalds. 

For the next hour we joined them, with chants of “Low Pay, Not Okay,” and8-29-13 005 conversations about their other activities.  Standing under the sign reading “Looking for a job?  We are looking for you,” we waved at passers by, many of whom gave us friendly waves in return.

The activist group, made up of local retirees, began its life as Occupy Ellsworth and continues to meet regularly for social and educational events plus occasional actions.  The call themselves “Community Union,” and are already planning a Black Friday protest at a local retail store. 

The nationwide protest, backed by the SEIU, called attention to the low pay rates typical of work in fast food establishments and also to the fact that the federal minimum wage – stuck at $7.25 an hour – is far from enough for workers to support themselves, let alone their families.  In fact, members of the Ellsworth group pointed out that the wages earned by fast food and many retail workers are so low that they are eligible for public assistance.  That means taxpayers are subsidizing the operations of highly profitable corporations like McDonalds.  

The protest drew attention from Maine Public Radio Network and two local TV stations.  My hope is that workers will be emboldened to demand better pay, that state and federal lawmakers will raise the minimum wage, and that even giant corporations will be forced to give in. 

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